December 18, 2001 11:00 pm
FACING SMOKING RESTRICTIONS: Richard Lefever of La Grande relaxes with a cigarette and a cup of coffee at the Flying J truck stop. Under a new law that takes effect Jan. 1, restaurants no longer will be able to have smoking sections. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).
FACING SMOKING RESTRICTIONS: Richard Lefever of La Grande relaxes with a cigarette and a cup of coffee at the Flying J truck stop. Under a new law that takes effect Jan. 1, restaurants no longer will be able to have smoking sections. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Getting Union County employers to comply with the new state Smoke-free Workplace law should be easy, said Michelle McAllister.

Part of McAllisters job with the Center for Human Development involves informing all employers of the new law that takes effect Jan. 1.

The law is designed to protect workers from second-hand smoke, which can cause several life-threatening diseases.

Specifically, the law provides, with certain exceptions, that an employer shall provide a place of employment that is free of tobacco smoke for all employees.

The exceptions include bars and taverns; bingo rooms or halls being used by a charitable, fraternal or religious organization; tobacco stores; restaurants seating fewer than 30 people; bowling centers; private homes, unless there is a child care, adult day care or health care center on the premises; and hotel and motel rooms designated as smoking rooms. The Rock, the bowling center in La Grande, is already smoke-free.

Since many employers, including Boise Cascade, Grande Ronde Hospital and governmental offices already are smoke-free, McAllister does not feel that many employers will face a hardship when the law takes effect.

It might affect some small businesses, but I dont see the law being a hardship for anyone, McAllister said. I have had some businesses say they are grateful for the new law.

McAllister is the Center for Human Developments program coordinator for tobacco prevention and education.

Not all local employers like the law.

One is Jean DeRoest, a non-smoker whose husband died of lung disease. She operates four Klondike Pizza establishments in Eastern Oregon. She already asks all employees to go outdoors to smoke. The Baker City outlet is smoke-free, she said.

She said her concern is that its the employer who is fined when there is a violation, not the employee or a customer who may enter with a cigarette in hand.

I cant ask an employee if they smoke (when she hires the person), but if I find out they smoked in the building and fire them, then I have the expense of hiring and training someone else, DeRoest said.

The states argument is that the law will save employers money in the short and long run, that smoking costs employers in terms of lost productivity, increased health care costs and increased building maintenance.

Im charged when the law is broken and I might not even be able to determine which employee caused the violation, DeRoest said.

The state should fine the person who violated the law, not the proprietor, she said. She said no training was being given concerning the law and added that the administrative rules for enforcement havent been approved. They are scheduled to be completed by March.

The Oregon Department of Human Services, working with local health officials, is responsible for enforcing the law.

DeRoest said its an insult to employees in bars and bowling and bingo places where smoking would be allowed.

The state is saying, We dont care about these workers. And there are often children in bingo and bowling establishments, she said.

Trisha Hafer, manager of the Flying J Travel Plaza on Highway 30 south of La Grande, said she didnt know what her establishment would do, but we have to do something.

About half of our restaurant is a smoking section and we also have a drivers lounge. This (new law) will hit us big time. About 90 percent of the truckers smoke.

She said she had not received any instructions from state officials concerning the law.

CHDs McAllister said she had surveyed Union County workplaces and found the vast majority are already smoke-free.

In 1999, McAllister made a survey with 340 respondents, which she called an adequate random sampling for a county of our size.

Eighty-two percent of those responding said they would

support a clean indoor-air regulation being applied to public


In the survey, 73 percent preferred going out to a smoke-free establishment, with 17 percent showing no preference, 9 percent indicating they didnt prefer a smoke-free establishment and 1 percent saying that it depended on the circumstances.

Eighty percent said their workplace was already smoke-free, with 13 saying theirs wasnt and 7 percent being unemployed or retired.

Among those who supported the law, passed by the 2001 Legislature, was Gov. John Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor.

In a letter addressed to employers, Kitzhaber said the law will enhance the health of your employees and of thousands of Oregonians.

The governor said he supported the law because it protects Oregonians from the dangers of second-hand smoke in the workplace. Second-hand smoke has been shown to cause heart disease, cancer, emphysema, asthma and other serious health conditions.

These conditions exact a financial toll as well as a human one. It will reduce costs associated with death and disability.

It is McAllisters job to send that letter, along with brochures explaining the law, to employers in Union County. She is working with the La Grande-Union County Chamber of Commerce and the state Employment Department to mail the packet within the next week.

Oregon state epidemiologist, Dr. Mel Kohn, said the law would protect 500,000 more Oregonians from second-hand smoke on the job.

The vast majority of employees will be spared from breathing the more than 4,000 chemicals, including 40 cancer-causing agents, found in second-hand smoke, Kohn said.

He said 79 percent of Oregonians are not smokers so customers should have little problem adapting to the new law. He said Oregon communities should see a reduction of $1 billion in health care costs and lost productivity to smoking-related disease and early death.

Employers will be required to post No Smoking signs at each entrance, and McAllister is including signs in the packets she is mailing. Those who dont get the packets can call her at 962-8854.

Businesses owners are subject to fines of up to $50 per day, not to exceed $1,000 in a 30-day period, for violations of the new law. But McAllister initially wants to concentrate on education.

On the Net:

Toll-free phone: 1-866-621-6107.

Locally: 962-8854.